NEW YORK – The Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce hosted an event on June 11 at Norton Rose Fulbright Hall in Manhattan titled The Effect of Politics on New York City Real Estate and the Future of Energy in the United States and Abroad.
The Chamber’s special guest and the evening’s keynote speaker was former New York City mayoral candidate and chairman of the Red Apple Group, John Catsimatidis.
Chamber President Markos Drakotos told The National Herald, "we have gathered here today to listen to someone who has been very generous to the Greek community. Indeed, I do not think it is possible for anyone to find a more humble, generous, and noble person than Mr. Catsimatidis. He will talk today about contemporary issues, which makes the event even more interesting. I think listening to business speakers of Mr. Catsimatidis' caliber benefits everyone. "
There was an impressive turnout on Tuesday night at the Chamber's reception, with representatives from the fields of politics, investment, and the business world attending. George Pataki, past Governor of New York, said to TNH, "The Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce is indeed a great organization and is constantly working to strengthen economic ties between two great countries. Tonight’s speaker is a great businessman but also an important leader. I am honored to be here today."
Drakotos thanked the attendees and those who helped organize the event. Atlantic Bank President Nancy Papaioannou presented biographical information and conveyed Catsimatidis’ achievements and diverse business life, adding that she expects that Catsimatidis will be the Mayor of New York one day.
The Greek-American businessman, radio producer and host, owner, President and CEO of the Gristedes Foods food chain and of the Red Apple Group, is a genuine embodiment of the American dream. Catsimatidis is known for his frank and direct style when he shares his views with his radio audience. He also tells personal stories about his birth on the island of Nisyros and his parents’ decision to pursue a better life by migrating to New York.
His family originally moved to western Harlem and his father worked in restaurants to support his family. Catsimatidis' humble beginnings did not at all suggest that a few years later he would build an empire literally from scratch. While still a student at NYU, he became the owner of his first grocery store, and by the time he was 25 he owned 10 stores.
Diving into contemporary issues, Catsimatidis made a comparison between the immigration practices at the time his family came to America and those of today, saying: "My father's two siblings had to sign that in case my father would be unable to pay our rent, they would have to pay it instead of him. It was not like today, when border control is loose and everyone can get in and out of the country as they wish.”
Catsimatidis praised President Donald Trump's determination to recognize the migration problem and to his having courage to defend the country's interests.
He clarified that he is in favor of immigration, because he himself is an immigrant as he said, but added, "we ought to control who is coming and who is leaving.” He also underlined that in the past, immigrants to America believed in the American dream, but that many immigrant groups today want to change America and make it conform to their own ideas.
Addressing the Greek-Americans who were in the audience and emphasizing the value of education for young people, he recommended: "Never forget that our children are competing with peers from all over the world in New York. Being the best in Astoria is no longer enough."
Sharing his business management philosophy, Catsimatidis said “people do what you inspect, not necessarily what you expect” – explaining that if nobody is watching some workers slack off.
In the 1970's he realized that his best chance for achieving his financial goals was to expand from the supermarket business to the real estate market.
In the decades following, Catsimatidis also invested in aviation by acquiring 47 jets and bought the United Refining Company with 371 gas stations. In a self-critical moment, he said one of his main strengths was knowing when to stop and to be sure everything was under control before proceeding to his next strategic move. "You also need vision and courage," he said.
At the end of his speech, Catsimatidis answered questions from the audience. Other issues discussed included income tax levels in New York and the recent failure of the deal with Amazon, which he described as an awful thing, attributing it to the failure of the Democratic party's politicians.
The audience had the opportunity to witness a more intimate and sensitive side of the businessman at the time when, towards the end, he was obviously moved when talking about his children. Catsimatidis talked about the necessity of family love and the importance for young people to feel safe at home, but also to be free to make mistakes, as mistakes, he said, are of great pedagogical value.
He also advised parents that, "it is very important to teach your children to have mentors. Many of my mentors were hardworking common sense people, and many of them belonged to the Jewish community. My mentors have really helped me very much. "
Present at the event were, among others, Catsimatidis’ wife Margo, Andre Gregory, Elias Katsos, George Pantelides, George Zapantis, Paul Lountzis, Zachary Lountzis, Olga Alexakos, John Stratakis, John Kuris, Athas Ioannou, Eraklis Diamataris, representatives of Southern Star and Brian Devine.